Dakota Johnson stepped out onto a large stage inside Park City’s Basin Recreation Fieldhouse on Thursday night, immediately surveyed the massive stage with hundreds of guests seated (including Sundance insiders, authors and a few movie stars ) and feigned shock.
“I thought it was an intimate dinner party,” said Johnson, the evening’s first presenter for the festival’s kick-off event, Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance Presented by IMDbPro. “I didn’t realize there would be so many people at Sundance, but thank God. It’s so good to be back in a room together celebrating independent cinema.
Sundance is back. The festival opened tonight, offering the first in-person event in three years due to the pandemic, so there was certainly cause for celebration. Johnson’s job was to present one of four awards presented from the main stage, his own being given to close friend and collaborator Luca Guadagnino, who was honored with an international icon award. The others went to Ryan Coogler (The variety visionary award), Nanny filmmaker Nikyatu Jusu (Vanguard Award presented by Acura for Fiction) and W. Kamau Bell (Vanguard Award presented by Acura for Non-Fiction).
Johnson has called Guadagnino “the epitome of an international icon”, so much so that she will ask for him to receive the trophy every year. She even praised his fashion sense, calling the fact that he “wears Prada all the time.” She detailed their professional relationship, the one that began when he cast her for the 2015 film A bigger splash and continued with 2018 Suspiria.
“I treasured it deeply,” the actress and producer said, adding that she found herself as an actress “day after day” on her sets and was found.
Johnson then turned his attention to Guadagnino’s critically acclaimed love story, the Sundance selection call me by your name, with Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t in that one,” confessed Johnson, who would later admit that she finds herself jealous of the other actors who work with the Italian author. “It was unfortunate.”
Johnson then joked that she was nearly thrown into call me by your name, playing the role of the peach, the same piece of fruit with which Elio, Chalamet’s character, masturbates to leave the pit and the remains on his desk. Hammer’s character Oliver discovers the peach but does not eat it like his character does in the novel the film is based on.
That didn’t stop Johnson from taking a hit at the headlines involving Hammer. “Luca had asked me to play the role of the peach but our schedules conflicted. Thank goodness because then I would have been another woman that Armie Hammer tried to eat.
Moments later, she nodded to Guadagnino’s latest cannibalistic love affair bones and all. It has been five years since [Call Me By Your Name] was created here and Luca kept taking us to exciting places. Who knew cannibalism was so popular? »
Although Johnson seemed to shed some light on the cannibalistic headlines, she previously defended Hammer, a co-star in the 2010 film. The social network, as well as other co-stars like Johnny Depp and Shia LaBeouf who had faced serious misconduct allegations. “I’ve never experienced this first hand from these people,” she said. THR in 2021. “I had an amazing time working with them; I am saddened by the loss of great artists. I am sad for people who need help and may not have received it in time. I feel sad for everyone who has been hurt or hurt. It’s truly sad. I believe people can change.
(For his part, Hammer, through an attorney, has previously denied any wrongdoing and maintained that all relationships were consensual. The cannibalistic allegations surfaced through his direct messages which went viral in January 2021. )
Guadagnino then took the stage and did not address the alleged peach casting or the cannibal quip, but called Johnson “my dear friend” and one of the best actors. The filmmaker has deep roots at Sundance that date back to 2010 when he made his festival debut with his film I am love. Due to the shared history, he said he always felt like coming home when he was here.
“Coming back here and being here means so much to all of us,” he said of the festival, which he called a “historic place” where the only thing that matters is “the empowerment of cinema.”
These themes permeated the other speeches of the evening by Coogler, Bell and Jusu as well as the evening’s star artists, the Indigo Girls. The iconic rock duo rushed to the fundraising gala for the world premiere of their Sundance documentary It’s only life after all by filmmaker Alexandria Bombach.
Despite some technical issues with the microphone and some feedback, they went through a three-song set and expressed their gratitude for being included in the festival and having the chance to share the stage with such accomplished artists.
Lena Waithe arrived, fresh from London, to present Coogler with his trophy calling him a scholar, ‘the calm in the midst of storms’, a leader and quiet royalty. In accepting, Coogler looked back on his career and expressed his genuine gratitude for the role Sundance played in launching his now-successful career. He shared a story about the night the festival launched his award-winning film Fruitvale Stationfeaturing a rising star named Michael B. Jordan, when his agent Craig Kestel told Coogler’s mother that “your son’s life is about to change.”
“It scared my mom,” Coogler admitted. “She didn’t understand what was going on. The truth is, Coogler said his life had already started to change in the years leading up to that night thanks to the support of producers Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi who tried his luck with him in film school, which led to his acceptance to the feature film. Sundance Institute lab. It was there that he met peers like Marielle Heller, David Lowery, Chloé Zhao and others.
“It was an honor to come with them,” he said. “Every time these filmmakers win, I feel like I’m winning, especially as a former football player.”
Upon accepting his award, Bell joked that he wanted to apologize to the ‘old white gentleman’ who praised him for soul summer, an Oscar-winning film directed by Questlove, not W. Kamau Bell. The winner went on to detail his journey from “weird” to stand-up comedy fan to stand-up comedian to executive producer and director of the award-winning film We need to talk about Cosby.
There were times during the production of the series when Bell had to wonder, “Who came up with this idea?” he recalls, making sure to shout out his mentors and collaborators who helped along the way. “It was a way of reminding me that it was my idea. I couldn’t help but blame myself. It was heartwarming. He also credited his credibility as an only child and his status as an outsider as being the key to his career.”Our quirkiness is our superpower,” he said.
Speaking of comfort, Jusu said movies continue to save her life and she wouldn’t be where she is in her artistic journey without Sundance. “My gratitude continues to have no depth, no breadth, no quantifiable end,” she said as she accepted following a presentation from Sundance favorite Boots Riley. Jusu won the Jury’s Drama Prize for his critically acclaimed film Nanny. “Sundance is the reason the industry couldn’t ignore me anymore.”
In closing, Jusu urged those in the room — “we are survivors,” she said — to keep “taking on a better world.” She then quoted one of her favorite minds, the legendary Toni Morrison. “It is not possible to constantly focus on the crisis, you have to have love and you have to have magic.”
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